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Every Man Dies Alone Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Mel Carriere does not look sketchy in person, but he plays a sketchy on the Internet, sharing his sketchy thoughts in his sketchy reviews.

Every Man Dies Alone author Hans Fallada, immortalized in all his sketchy glory on a German postage stamp.

Every Man Dies Alone author Hans Fallada, immortalized in all his sketchy glory on a German postage stamp.

When Sketchiness Strikes

As a United States Letter Carrier I confess that I don't enjoy sharing my lunch with sketchies. Yes I'm old school, but I picked up on the term sketchy from my new-school sons, who use the word to describe those undesirable loiterers in parking lots, parks, and other public places who try to get something out of you without providing anything in return. But whether you are new-school or old-school, sketchies have been around forever. Bum, hobo, shyster, these are only variations on the theme of sketchy.

While we're chewing on this thought, we have to eschew the Webster and Oxford definition of sketchy, because the whiff of street people never rises above the cloud of pipe-smoke puffed out by those stuffed shirts, there in their mahogany halls. Their definition of sketchy is way too old and irrelevant. So I consulted the urban dictionary on this one, and those slightly off-kilter folks update the definition of sketchy to someone who acts suspicious, unpredictable and odd in normal situations.

Well I'll be, I guess that means I'm sketchy too a lot of times, by this definition. But who defines normal, anyway? My personal definition of normal is a pretty big umbrella that most people can fit under without getting wet, except when we're Covid social distancing. On the other hand, I have a friend whose standard of normalcy exiles a lot of us flakes way out of the box and back into the cornfield. Normal, and its opposite sketchiness are relative and subjective, not absolutes.

But to return to the sub-main point of the main point, I don't like being interrupted by sketchies during the hallowed half-hour reading time of my postal lunch break. Even so, it still happens. One day while basking in this inviolate bubble some wandering young waif babbled to me about how she had been impregnated through osmosis, without anybody touching her. Weird, unless you're in Bethlehem around the year zero. Another time a shirtless, tattooed sketchy in camouflage pants approached me in my cocoon of quietude to ask if I had any meth. Yeah that's right, he asked me, 230 pounds with all my God-given teeth in my head except for half of one, which is now a crown caused by a rock in a piece of pizza, definitely not a rock of crystal. Yet in his view, I looked like the poster boy for substance abuse.

Nonetheless, although I get sketched out by sketchies, for approximately my last 30 postal lunches I have invited a sketchy into my rolling reading room. It's a tight squeeze there in the single seat of my postal long life vehicle, but by surrendering a little more of my sense of normalcy I have managed to balance this sketchy on my lap while eating.

This sketchy's name is Hans, Hans Fallada. Yes he's a German dude, which makes squeezing him into the vehicle's single seat with me just a little bit weirder. But no, Hans was not wearing leather and an SS cap, nothing odd like that. He did not bring his riding crop. What he did bring was his superb book, Every Man Dies Alone, which gets into the heads of sketchies in a way that only a sketchy can. Although the novel depicts the sketchiest period of German history, when the government was actually run by a gang of sketchies, Hans Fallada's true-life sketchiness tells such a captivating tale that a reader would assume his sketchy personal story is fiction as well, when it is not. It is the non-sketchy truth.

Reviewer Mel Carriere philosophically ponders the concept of sketchiness, while patiently awaiting the fallout of the latest Baja storm.

Reviewer Mel Carriere philosophically ponders the concept of sketchiness, while patiently awaiting the fallout of the latest Baja storm.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Lunchtime Lit novels are read only on Mel's authorized half hour lunch break. Sketchy things are never to be done with these books, such as sneaking them out of the lunch box at night and sharing them with other sketchies at the trolley station, while prowling around pestering passengers with sketchy requests like hey man can I borrow your cell phone, or other sketchy things like that.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * **

BookPagesWord CountDate StartedDate FinishedLunchtimes Consumed

A Suitable Boy

1,349

591,552

6/29/2019

12/10/2019

103

Death Is A Lonely Business

276

79,200

12/12/2019

1/15/2020

17

Origin

632

158,050

1/16/2020

2/26/2020

25

The Casual Vacancy

503

162,152

2/27/2020

4/13/2020

30

Thy Tears Might Cease

592

207,375

4/14/2020

6/26/2020

41

Every Man Dies Alone

500

194,500

6/27/2020

8/20/2020

29

*Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

**Twenty-six other titles, with a total estimated word count of 5,680,655 and 872 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

A Sketch of a Sketchy Book

Every Man Dies Alone is a novel, but is based on the true case of a Berlin married couple who planted anti-Nazi postcards during World War II, dropping them in secluded places like stairwells. After the war had concluded, Hans Fallada was given the real Gestapo case file by a high-placed colleague, who told him to get off his sketchy ass and start writing. Although he changed names and details for dramatic purposes, the failing author hurriedly composed the tale of married couple Otto and Anna Quangel, who because of the battlefield death of their son in France are pushed to this desperate measure with a forlorn, foregone conclusion. They are not part of any underground resistance cell, but act alone.

There is nothing charismatic or inspiring about Otto Quangel, the coffin-building carpenter who masterminds the doomed plan. To use the clinical term, Otto is an asshole. He is a humorless introvert who has no friends and doesn't want any. What motivates Otto is that he just wants to be left alone to be an asshole, something the Nazis won't do. As long as people give him room to be an asshole he will give them room to be an asshole too, or even be nice if the spirit moves them. This is Otto's definition of decency. But the Nazis keep getting into his personal space, and their network of tattle-tale stool pigeons threatens his entire concept of decency. For this reason, he and Anna start scattering the cards with anti-Hitler messages.

Not surprisingly the plan is doomed to failure, motivating next to nobody to resist the regime. The citizens of wartime Germany are extremely paranoid, and most of those who chance upon the postcards immediately turn them over to the police, without even reading them first. In fact, the Quangel´s only "convert" turns out to be the frustrated Gestapo agent who fruitlessly pursues the postcard-droppers for years, until an act of carelessness eventually gives them away.

In the course of the tale, the Quangels keep bumping into sketchies. You know the type - those shiftless parasites who are physically capable of working but would rather suck the life-blood of productive members of society. Working people in modern democracies are beset by these lowlifes every day. Every Man Dies Alone informs us that even under the authoritarian Nazi state a sketchy could get out of work with a doctor´s note, then be free to panhandle, steal from helpless old ladies, and denounce neighbors to the Gestapo for cash.

But there are two types of sketchies in this novel - undesirable bloodsucking riff-raff and officially-sanctioned sketchies. The book abounds with Hitler Youth and SS-men who would have been everyday street-corner sketchies in a normal democracy, but under the Fuhrer have been given a license for thuggery, theft, and malfeasance, all excused by a nifty-looking uniform.

The reason why Hans Fallada is able to describe sketchies with such precision is because he was a sketchy, one who never really reformed. His personal history is a saga that if read as a work of fiction would make you smile and say nah, that could never happen. Pure fantasy.

Otto and Elise Hampfel, the real-life postcard writers whose story formed the basis for Every Man dies alone.

Otto and Elise Hampfel, the real-life postcard writers whose story formed the basis for Every Man dies alone.

Fallada's Follies

Even the writer's real name is somewhat of a fantasy, being Rudolf Ditzen, not Hans Fallada. Pulling from his favorite Grimm's fairy tales, he created this pen name because he already had a reputation for sketchiness, and didn't want to discourage potential readers who would be put-off by his loathsome antics.

It didn't take young Rudolf Ditzen long to become acquainted with sketchiness. A childhood accident resulted in a lifelong addiction to painkillers. Then, in his adolescence he entered into a suicide pact with his best friend, which they disguised as a duel to protect the reputation of their very respectable families. Rudolf killed his friend and shot himself in the chest in his overwhelming despair, but managed to survive. After this act he was committed to a mental institution, furthering his descent into the depths of sketchiness.

Following his stint in the loony-bin young Rudolf bummed around, working in agricultural jobs as he dabbled in writing, which it turned out he had a flair for. Several of his works were published, but to little acclaim, so Hans/Rudolf supplemented his meager author's wages with some sketchiness on the side. He stole from his employers and made a general nuisance of himself as he drifted in and out of jails and mental wards. The side gig sprung from having to satisfy a morphine habit that had taken seed in his youth and could not be uprooted in adulthood.

Hans got married and tried to act decent for awhile, working respectable jobs as an editor, journalist and novelist. Finally he scored an international hit with the publication of Little Man, What Now? His financial problems were resolved, but National Socialism loomed dark upon the horizon, and it became a thin line between love and hate for Hans Fallada and the Nazi party. One day they were ransacking his home, looking for evidence of "anti-Nazi" activities, the next day he was sucking up to Goebbels the propaganda minister, writing books that denounced the Weimar Republic that Hitler had overturned.

The strain of the balancing act between artistic integrity and Nazi collaboration turned Hans Fallada to the sauce. In World War II he supplemented his morphine addiction with alcoholism. During a drunken argument with his wife Hans fired a gun, getting him confined to yet another psychiatric institution. While imprisoned there, he obtained preferential treatment by claiming he was writing an anti-Semitic novel for Goebbels. His captors supplied him with paper and left him alone, but instead of penning a book to censure the Jews, he prepared an encoded anti-Nazi manuscript. Toward the end of 1944 he was released, his dangerous subterfuge undetected.

The capitulation of the Third Reich did not improve Han's fortunes, or his sketchiness. He divorced his first wife and married an equally sketchy morphine addict. The two went off on a bender that sent Hans and his young bride into institutions, nothing new for our author. While incarcerated in one such facility Hans penned Jeder Stirbt Fur Sich Allein (Every Man Dies Alone), scribbling away in a twenty-four day frenzy. It would become his best-known novel, but Fallada died before it was published. On 5 February, 1947 his sketchiness finally consumed him.

Hans Fallada's post-mortem recognition qualifies him for admission to my illustrious Lunchtime Lit Pointless, Posthumous Hall of Fame, which you can access by scrolling through my hub pages profile to The Moby Dick article (hubpages.com/@melcarriere). This dreary list of unsung authors is getting so long I am contemplating giving it its own space.

An example of the Hampfel's toxic postcards.  Hitler's charming mug is obscured with the words worker-murderer.

An example of the Hampfel's toxic postcards. Hitler's charming mug is obscured with the words worker-murderer.

Parting thoughts - What Happens When Sketchies Rule The Roost?

An alternative definition of sketchiness is an overly narrow, narcissistic view of the world. The street-corner sketchy believes that his or her addictions are the one-all be-all. They are obsessed by the demons besieging their corrupted souls, and live only to feed the beast.

But you can get around these garden-variety sketchies by simply moving to another part of the bus stop, or choosing not to walk through the park after dark. Avoiding the sketchy roadblock is usually not an insurmountable problem. Where sketchiness becomes dangerous, however, is when it is institutionalized. And that is what Every Man Dies Alone is really about.

When you put on an ideological straight jacket, it immediately turns you into a sketchy, whether your jacket's color be red or blue, whether it is adorned with a swastika or a hammer and sickle, whether it is peddled by the Ayatollah or the Pope. With your ideological straight-jacket on, your peripheral vision contracts to the point where you think your limited view is the absolute truth. Then your next hop down the sketchy bunny trail is to start believing that your opponents should be silenced, even permanently silenced. When the straight-jacket craze really takes off and enough people start wearing them, a nation of good, decent, tolerant people now becomes a cesspool of scared rats, a place where neighbors turn in neighbors before they can be turned in. Decency is replaced with terror.

Perhaps Every Man Dies Alone is a cautionary tale, one sketchy warning us non-sketchies about what can happen when sketchiness gets out of control. If a civilized, intellectual, scientific, orderly, morally-upright place like Germany can slide into the slime pit of sketchiness, who is to say the same cannot happen in other western-style democracies, including our own in the good old, God-fearing US of A. It can't happen here? Maybe it is already happening here.

No Lunchtime-Lit on Your Busy Schedule? See the Movie "Alone in Berlin," based on Fallada's Book

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on September 04, 2020:

You are right Barb because there are sketchies in non-sketchy clothing, and sometimes they look back at us in the mirror. We're all waiting for herd immunity right now, but the desire to go wherever the herd goes sometimes drives us over that sketchy cliff.

I really appreciate you dropping in.

Barb Johnson from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on September 02, 2020:

Hi Mel,

An interesting, bitter-sweet read. Thanks for mixing it up to make it palatable. Seems like half the world is wearing an 'ideological straight jacket' right now. No more pointing the finger at a 'sketchy.' You may as well point it at yourself.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 29, 2020:

Very good point Mills. I think theirs is more the God of the Pharisees than the God of Christ and his disciples, walking homeless from town to town preaching peace. I think it would be fair to say that Christianity is being subverted by sketchies as well.

I really appreciate you dropping in with your great comment.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on August 29, 2020:

The world is much too full of people who think viewpoints are one-sided. I'm one of those who believes that God-fearing Christians may be worshiping the wrong God - or not see the God of love my upbringing taught me. Of course, we're all seeing sketchies trying to subvert the democratic process by any means that come to their fear-mongering and narrow minds. Our fight, though, cannot be as quiet as the one of the Quangels. Thanks as always for sharing.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 29, 2020:

Eric, a friend and book mentor of my own used to quote me a little poem about learning dead languages, like you had to do:

Latin's a dead language

Dead as it can be

First it killed the Romans

Now it's killing me

I would love to lend you my book, I really would, but it's a biohazard. It's got all my lunchtime leavings soiled into it. I'm a sloppy eater. They usually give me a trough instead of a plate.

Good luck on that Vietnamese. At least you have a good coach. I hope your brain doesn't freeze, just maybe cools down a few degrees, to make the playing field level for the rest of us.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 29, 2020:

Thank you Road Monkey. So sorry you are running into so many ideological straight jacket sketchies over there across the pond as well. I hope that calm, rational heads such as your own will prevail.

Yes, this book has a bit of the 1984 or Brave New World cautionary feel to it, but at the same time it almost takes the position that this sort of situation is inevitable, and the individual is helpless against a society that has gone insane.

I really appreciate you dropping in.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 29, 2020:

I am bummed. Holding the actual book read by my book mentor would make the world complete. German to Anglais huh? Quite the endeavor. I should do that with a book I have. I will shoot for Vietnamese as that is required reading in this house.

You know me I am a Bible thumper so I did it in Latin for a bit. I still have brain freeze.

RoadMonkey on August 28, 2020:

Wow, that sounds like an important book on the level of 1984 or Brave New World! I love your paragraph that starts "When you put on an ideological straight jacket, it immediately turns you into a sketchy," and the sentence, "your peripheral vision contracts to the point where you think your limited view is the absolute truth". This is just so true and I am seeing it all around me at present.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 28, 2020:

Thank you Davika. If you do decide to read this book, you won't regret it. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 28, 2020:

Thank you Umesh, I am happy you stopped by.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 28, 2020:

Thank you Linda, I appreciate you picking up on that. Sometimes the most serious topics only reach an audience through an attempt at humor. I usually try to do that, and I am happy you caught on.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 28, 2020:

Awesome! Your book reviews are encouraging and most interesting. This makes me want to read it. A way to get me to read more and of a new book indeed.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on August 28, 2020:

Interesting review. Well presented.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2020:

This is a very interesting review, Mel. It contains a combination of amusement and sadness that works well.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 27, 2020:

Eric I saw this book for the first time at the airport and when I saw the price I said "Whoa Nellie," so I ordered it on Amazon.

I once realized, and told to my son, that we have to embrace our inner sketchy. Only that way can we understand our fellow man, and then the sketchy seems less sketchy.

I would lend you my book, I would float it across the lake in a bottle, but I am using it to learn Deutsch. I got the Kindle version in German and I need the English version to cross reference.

So happy for your visit. Keep on sketchin out.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 27, 2020:

Well I will be. It must be some kind of osmosis. I was recently wondering about how much masks hide sketchiness. People are nicer to me now so there might be something there. You should work on the sketchiness I find it repels the sketchy types. Sketchy guys mess with homicide investigations - it is just natural to think the sketchy guy did it.

I think I shall get this book, notice I did not say buy.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 27, 2020:

John, I am sure sketchy is an American ghetto term, but it might immigrate down under. In the meantime, Austrailianisms continue to invade California. I had never heard "no worries" until 1987, when I visited Perth in the navy. I thought it was charming. Now I here it everywhere, rolling off American lips like they invented it. Take care bro and stay safe.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 27, 2020:

Mel, I had never heard the term sketchy before other than “sketchy (vague or incomplete) information” etc. you mentioned “hobo, bum, shyster”...possibly “vagrant, charlatan, fraudster..even “weirdo.” Maybe “shifty” fits best, or maybe we just don’t have a word for it.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 27, 2020:

John, do you have the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of sletchies in Australia? If so, are they upside down? I really think sketchiness is a universal problem.

Now that you mention it, Hans Fallada's real name sounds like he could pull Santa's sleigh. Your witticisms are always welcome here. Thanks for dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 27, 2020:

Bill, the good book says the poor will always be with us, and I think it's a certainty that the sketchies will always be with us too. Who knows what untapped talent is out there in sketchieland? Maybe another Hans Fallada with a best seller in him, if he could sit his tweakin butt down long enough to write it.

I appreciate the nice comments.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 27, 2020:

Another excellent review, as we have come to expect, Mel. It seems these author’s lives are more incredible than even the stories in their books, as was certainly the case with Rudolf Ditzen (sounds like the names of two of Santa’s reindeers.)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

I think I enjoyed your discussion of sketchies as much as I did the actual book report. Pregnant by osmosis? Now that's an excuse I've never heard before. Not even Mary knew of the word "osmosis" back in her day. :) As always, enjoyed the book review, but this one had a nice bonus.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on August 27, 2020:

So glad you liked it Pamela. The book is a textbook on the subject of sketchyism in both its big and small forms. But it is also a good story, a real page-turner.

I appreciate you dropping in.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 27, 2020:

I think I know more about sketchy than I ever hoped. I hope it is not happening here, but after the 2020 happenings, I don't think anything would be a surprise.

I think I woud like this book. You always write such excellent book reviews and this one is no exception. This article was a very enjoyable read, Mel.